President Moon Jae-in arrived at Washington Thursday to attend the South Korea-U.S. summit, while U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was being questioned at the Congress on North Korean policy. Though the official agenda of the Congress hearing was the accounting budget for 2020, Pompeo was bombarded with sharp questions on North Korean issues.
“Sanctions such as UN Security Council resolutions should be in effect until North Korea’s denuclearization verification process is complete,” Pompeo said, reconfirming U.S. stance to maintain sanctions a day ahead of the South Korea-U.S. summit.
When Senator Ed Markey questioned and criticized the effectiveness of North Korean sanctions, Pompeo replied “North Korea’s economy will contract this year.” When he was confronted with the argument that “Even if the economy does contract, it will not be enough for Kim Jong Un to give up nuclear weapons,” Pompeo replied, “You should move to the outskirts of Pyongyang because those folks think it's very effective.” When the Democratic senator also pointed out that illegal oil ship-to-ship transfers was increasing, he replied that “Dealing with rouge states is challenging. The U.S. government continues to work with partner countries to execute the sanctions.”
Pompeo was also asked by Republican Senator Cory Gardner whether he agrees that no sanctions should be lifted until North Korea demonstrates a commitment to complete and verifiable denuclearization. "I want to leave a little space there," Pompeo answered. "From time to time, there are particular provisions that if we were making substantial progress that one might think that was the right thing to do to achieve. Sometimes it's visas.” He could have been referring to visas granted to relief organizations, but Pompeo did not elaborate.
The U.S. stance on easing North Korean sanctions remains firm. Most of U.S. experts on Korean affairs have negative views about South Korea’s “early harvest” or “good enough deal.” “It would not be surprising if President Trump is presented with the offer,” Park Jung-hyun, a senior fellow at Brookings Institution's Center for East Asia Policy Studies, said at an expert forum held at the Heritage Foundation on the same day. Scott Snyder, a senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on U.S.-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, also said that concessions should be made by North Korea, not the U.S.